The only tri-service charity in the United Kingdom for servicemen and women, the Not Forgotten Association, is back in Majorca with a group of wounded servicemen. One of them, Kyle Baker, who was shot in Afghanistan, has told the Bulletin his story.
On Bonfire Night, 2009, 18-year-old Riflemen Kyle Baker and his platoon were just coming to the end of a night patrol to locate and flush out hostiles in the highly dangerous town of Sangin in Helmand province when they were surrounded by Taliban fighters.
Kyle, who celebrated his 25th birthday here in Majorca on Wednesday, told the Bulletin that he can’t remember exactly what time it was but it was just before sunrise.
"We were coming round this corner, getting close to base. It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop and something didn’t feel right. Then all of a sudden an RPG flew over heads, exploded and all hell broke lose as we started taking in automatic gunfire from all directions. They (the Taliban) had us 360 degrees.
"A whole company of 3 Rifle had been out, that’s three platoons, that’s a lot of troops and firepower and we gave back as good as we got, but all of a sudden I felt like I had been kicked in the back. This dull thud hit me and I fell into the drainage ditch I had been patrolling alone.
"I was carrying extra weight, some 20 kilos plus, because I was packing special signal breaking equipment and my left leg just gave way and I crashed down into this ditch. All I remember was shouting ‘man down! man down!’ and putting my hand out to try and break my fall into the water and hit the deck.
"The next thing, I woke up in hospital in Birmingham. At first I didn’t know who I was, where I was and my mother and family were around me. I still thought I was in ‘Stan’. Nothing made any sense at first, I was really confused.
"Eventually I was debriefed about what had happened and the medics had kept a diary for me so I knew what my wounds were and how I had been treated. I had taken a bullet from an AK47 in the lower left of my back in the early minutes of the fire fight. Due to lack of sufficient equipment, I had to wear body armour which was too small for me. At the back it should have covered down to below my waist line. This didn’t and that’s where the bullet hit. Because I was wearing armour front and back, the bullet couldn’t come out so it ricocheted around my body like a pinball causing multiple internal injuries.
"I suffered a ruptured diaphragm, I eventually lost my long intestine, I suffered a fractured pelvis, my tail bone was shattered, I suffered bleeding in the brain. I had three cardiac arrests and needed 300 units of blood pumped. The first emergency operation was carried out at Bastion, but I had no idea. I was out cold for the week.
"I think I was the first British medical evacuee flown through Russian airspace. The British got special permission because it was vital. I was hospitalised in the UK asap. At one point they had to massage my heart manually to keep me alive. My nerves at the base of my spine were also shot, so I couldn’t walk and the bleeding had caused brain damage.
"I was in hospital for three months, until the end of January and then had to undergo nine months of intensive rehabilitation at Headley Court. I had to learn how to walk unaided again. That took two years in total. But I also had to learn how to do the simple things again like cook, shop, dress myself, organise my day, all the things so I could become self sufficient again.
"I eventually went before the regiment’s medical board. I knew what the crack was going to be. I didn’t join the army to sit behind I desk. Anyway, I couldn’t sit down for long. I still can’t because of my shattered tail bone. They offered me a job in stores, but that’s not why I joined up aged 16.
"I remember that within weeks of completing final training, I was posted to Afghanistan and I was really excited. I had been watching the conflict on TV and that convinced me to join up. I knew that by joining up then, I would be definitely posted to Afghanistan. Yeah, you know there’s always a possibility that you could get shot, killed even, but I would go back tomorrow, I would not give it a second thought.
"When I finally came round and realised what had happened my first concern was for the rest of the lads. I asked if anyone else had been hit. I’m happy to have taken the bullet. It could have been any of my other mates in the platoon and it could have been a lot worse. They might not be here today, having a beer in the Majorcan sun telling you their story," Kyle said with a smile.
"Obviously, I’ve still got my issues and my body is far from prepared. For example, I can’t go to the beach. I can’t do sand. Even once in hospital, I had the desert sand in my hair for weeks because they couldn’t wash it out, so I feel really uncomfortable near or on sand. I’m better round the pool, water doesn’t bother me."
Kyle, who now lives in his home town of Chepstow, has just completed training and studying for his Home Office The Security Industry Authority badge and intends to move into the security industry.
"I’ve got my military pension obviously, but I’m still young and there are lots of things I want to do. Being part of the Not Forgotten Association is making that possible. Over the years, I’ve been snowboarding with them, I made a publicity video to help raise awareness and funds, and next year I am going to be competing in a dog-sledding race in Mongolia. I’m going to be doing it with a good mate of mine from the RAF. We happened to be put in the same room on a skiing trip two years ago and we got on really well and have become great mates. He’s an amputee and neither of us know how to sled so we’re going to have to get our fingers out and start learning and training pretty soon.
"But, that’s what so great about this association. There’s no distinction made between regiment or even rank, to a certain extent. It’s become my second family, and I know it has for thousands of other servicemen and women of all ages. I’ve been out to Majorca before but with none of the lads and their partners of this trip.
"We’re all from different regiments, backgrounds, generations, but we all get on straight away and become good mates and keep in touch once the trip is over. We’re all together having a laugh, looking out for one another and talking about things that most people on civvy street would neither understand or be interested in so it’s great therapy and really helps to get us away from the days in and out of routine life and if it’s not here, it will be somewhere else on some other activity."
During this week, the group have been enjoying some water sports, they have visited a water park and been treated to a few dinners out in and around the north of the island. A few wanted to play golf but unfortunately, unlike the rest of the local businesses, the golf courses were not feeling very charitable and they could not afford it. Maybe next time.
This weekend the last group comes out for the Three Peak Challenge in the Tramuntana Mountains.